“TO BE READ” Reading Guide: Ready-made lists for the ambitious reader

Get my new reading guide nowWhen I ask people what they'd like to spend more time doing, "reading" comes up a lot. For good reason! Scales of human happiness find that people enjoy reading more than watching TV (to say nothing of work or housework). The problem, of course, is that reading makes more demands of you than TV watching does. Consequently, it's always easier to turn on the TV (or start surfing the web) when leisure time appears. To read in a distracted world, you need to make a conscious choice to read.

The good news is that it is quite possible to do that. I believe that even busy people can find time to read. And I also believe that when busy people choose the right things to read, they magically start finding more time to dig into their books!

Hence, the creation of "TO BE READ: Ready-made lists for the ambitious reader." Get my new reading guide now by signing up below.

I think that one of the things that stops busy people from reading more is that figuring out what to read takes work. If leisure time is already scarce, who wants to invest some of that leisure time in plotting out the rest of it? But one of my great discoveries in life is that fun sometimes takes effort. I decided to accept that, rather than fight it. Now I build in 30 minutes every 2 weeks or so to figure out what should go on my "To Be Read" (TBR) list. I look at suggestions from blogs (particularly Modern Mrs. Darcy), and from publications (O magazine runs many reviews, as does the Wall Street Journal). I started reading through lesser known works by authors I'd enjoyed in the past. Now, if I find a new author I like, I’ll read through everything she's written. I'll look at Amazon's algorithms and see which other authors are suggested as being similar. If I'm reading one non-fiction book on a topic, I might read another book on the same topic to give me a different perspective. I'll also read through books mentioned in other books I'm reading!

Now, I always have a good idea of what to read next. Good books make me want to read. When I'm reading a good book, I turn what would have been magazine reading time into book reading time. When I'm reading a good book, I do less of other things (email checking, puttering around the house), and more reading. The key is just figuring out what I would really enjoy.

This brings me to the goal of this reading guide. I've spent a lot of time over the past year figuring out what to read next. I want to save you some of the effort! This reading guide has seven ready-made TBR lists with suggestions of books to read in sequence on certain themes. Each of these lists should occupy you for at least two weeks (unless you read really fast!) and often closer to a month. They explore a concept from multiple different angles. They sometimes stick with an author for a while so you can get a sense of his or her style.

Here are the seven lists, which themselves need not be read in sequence, though I'd suggest reading each individual TBR list in the order suggested:

  • Travel
  • Place
  • 1925-1927
  • American Originals
  • Embracing or Escaping the Small Town
  • Your Best Life
  • Encounters with the Absurd

A few notes on the suggestions. First, I really, really enjoyed reading all of the books in the guide (and in two cases, writing them!). There are plenty of books out there that you might know are important, and accomplishing something exciting in a literary sense, and yet you still find yourself counting pages. Those books are like eating spinach. That is not the case here. I promise that all these books are highly readable.

In some cases, I deliberately chose one book by an author, and not others, because the chosen book is more accessible and immediately pleasurable than some of the author's other titles. If you find you really like an author, please do go read his or her completed works! Likewise, feel free to supplement any of these TBR lists with other books (post a comment below or drop me a line — lvanderkam at yahoo dot com — because I welcome suggestions).

I know your time is limited. I want reading to be fun. I also know that when reading is fun, you will spend more time reading.

Get my new reading guide now!

To receive "TO BE READ: Ready made lists for the ambitious reader" simply sign up below.

(NOTE: Some folks have reported that the form is not showing characters as you type them in to the fields. The good news is that if you do type your name and email address in the boxes, even if you can’t see them, it will let you download the guide!)

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15 Responses to “TO BE READ” Reading Guide: Ready-made lists for the ambitious reader


  1. Jamie says:

    I clicked right over from my RSS reader to sign up, but the sign-up interface is glitchy in my version of Safari. (It did work for me eventually, just not with my preferred email address.) If the interface is easily tweakable, you might think about tweaking it.

    • @Jamie- thank you for letting me know. I had some issues in Safari with it making my name and email show up (when I was testing it) but it worked in other browsers. Not sure why – but I’ll have someone look into it.

  2. Victoria S says:

    I tried signing up but the boxes to put my name and email won’t let me type anything..the cursor blinks like it’s doing something, but no letters appear. I’m in internet explorer, not sure if that matters.

    • @Victoria S – a couple of people have had this problem. The good news is that if you do type your name and email address in the boxes, even if you can’t see them, it will let you download the guide!

  3. Jennie says:

    Tried it in both chrome and safari and won’t let me fill in the blanks. Love a good reading list. Several friends and I are starting a monthly book club in August. Always on the look out for great suggestions.

    • @Jennie – sorry for the problems. Just try typing your name and email in the boxes, and even if you don’t see the letters, know it is going through. When you hit to enter them it should let you download the guide.

  4. Natalie says:

    Cannot sign up either. But would love it.

    • @Natalie – I will email it to you. We have found that even if you can’t see your name getting filled in as you’re typing, it is being registered, and the link should open. But so sorry for the troubles with it!

  5. Caitlin says:

    Full disclosure: I’m a librarian, so I’m going to plug some library resources. I understand not everyone wants to ask a librarian, but we are great resources! We haven’t read everything but we do hear about a lot of different titles. At my library we also have two great “passive” sources: our online catalog lists “more like this” at the bottom of a description of a book, so if there is a title you like, try looking it up and seeing what other titles and authors are suggested (we also have a database called Novelist that does this–it even has a checklist for specific things you are looking for, such as the pace of the writing, the time period, aspects such as female friendships, etc.). Many libraries also have blogs with book recommendations. My library also puts recommendation bookmarks in popular titles–“Did you enjoy Such and Such book? Try these titles!” followed by several recommendations and reasons why they relate to the book you loved.

    I really love the (non-library) website Book Riot–I’ve found some really excellent recommendations and they are very enthusiastic.

    • @Caitlin- thanks for all these ideas! Yep, libraries and librarians can be great resources on what to read next. And I will be sure to check out Book Riot.

    • Meghan says:

      Caitlin, I was going to make the same comment! You can also ask a librarian for suggestions – I’m currently working outside the library world right now, but one of my all-time favorite services when I was a public librarian was reader’s advisory (answering the question, “what should I read next?”). Some libraries offer an intense personal reading list service, and all are staffed by people who’d love to offer suggestions based on your preferences! I still love to do this for people I know 🙂

  6. Jennie says:

    I received your list, and while I have read many of them, several were new to me. I have long time relationship with the works of Eudora Welty. When an undergrad, I had to write a 25 pg dissertation and defend it. Being both Mississippi girls, Welty spoke to me and since I knew I was going to be spending a lot of time with her I chose her works. My thesis was “Wanderers and Watchers in Eudora Welty’s The Golden Apples and Other Fiction.” Left 25 in the dust and ended at 40 pages.

  7. Caryn says:

    Hi, I understand I can’t see my response, but it keeps sending me a message saying my email is invalid. I have entered it multiple ones and know it is correct. Could you send it to me? Thanks.

  8. Leila says:

    I am a fan of the public libraries in my area. Highlights for me include a free book request service for physical books and multiple apps for e-books/audio books which feature excellent recommendation lists from librarians as well as other themed/genre reading lists. Also very good “suggestion for purchase” processes for all book types – I’ve recommended a number of yours over the years, Laura!

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